THE INAUGURATION of President Andrej Kiska and his subsequent activities in the presidential post have helped to slightly increase the quality of democracy in Slovakia, according to an index produced by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO).

Overall, the quality of democracy increased by 0.1 points to 3.1 in the second quarter of 2014 as a result of the first actions of the new president, who was inaugurated into the post on June 15.

“As expected, the first steps of the new president decreased the concentration of power in the hands of one political party and boosted the mechanisms of power distribution, the brakes and a counter balance,” the IVO, a non-governmental think tank which has been evaluating the quality of democracy in Slovakia with its IVO Barometer project, wrote in an official statement.

The potential marks in the barometer range from 1 to 5, with 1 representing the optimal state of democracy based on standards and comparative criteria in other EU and Council of Europe member states. The IVO Barometer evaluates four areas of democracy: democratic institutions and a lawful state (giving Slovakia a grade of 3.25 in the second quarter of 2014); legislation (a grade of 2.75); respect for and protection of human and minority rights (a grade of 3.5); and media freedom and the quality of public-service media (a grade of 3.0). In all areas except democratic institutions and lawful state, the grade remains unchanged in the quarter-on-quarter comparison, as positive and negative tendencies have counterbalanced each other.

Kiska and the judiciary

In the area of democratic institutions and a lawful state, the improvement from the previous quarter’s 3.5 grade to the current 3.25 is ascribed to Kiska’s influence.

Grigorij Mesežnikov of IVO positively evaluates Kiska’s activity in the judiciary, including his decision to appoint only Jana Baricová from the six candidates for Constitutional Court approved by parliament. Mesežnikov appreciated that Kiska recalled on June 18 three members of the Judicial Council nominated by his predecessor Ivan Gašparovič, replacing the trio in the 18-member top judicial body overseeing the courts with his own nominees.

“The decision about the appointment of new judges of the Constitutional Court was the most important step of the new president at the start of his work in the post, [it was] important mainly for the overall social and political development in the country, the character of relations between constitutional institutions, and the further work of the Constitutional Court and the fate of constitutionality in Slovakia,” IVO wrote in the Barometer report.

Constitutional amendment criticised

On the other hand, IVO criticised some legislation changes, especially the lack of public debate on a constitutional amendment which, in addition to reforming the judiciary, defined marriage as a unique bond between a man and a woman.

“Speaking about the constitutional amendment, we would like to say that such legislative initiatives should be approached in a different way than Smer and KDH [parties] did,” the IVO said, adding that serious legal issues should be discussed with the expert public. Instead, the preparation of the constitutional changes has only confirmed the negative trend that the current government has been following, IVO said, whereby the proposals have been prepared by the Justice Ministry, but proposed by the ruling party’s MPs, which served to avoid a detailed expert discussion at the cabinet level.

Bonanno mentioned again

Within the area of independent media, the IVO Barometer mentioned the first ruling in the infamous Bonanno case, which the report calls “the most disturbing decision affecting the work of independent media”.

The Bonanno case encompasses a series of lawsuits that Ringier Axel Springer, the publisher of Nový Čas, faces in connection with publishing photos from a private meeting of prominent lawyers and judges, dubbed the Judiciary Oscars Association, in the Bonanno bar in Rajecké Teplice in autumn 2010. A total of €1.8 million in damages is being sought in the lawsuits.

The daily reported in June 2012 that retired lawyer Tibor Péchy came to the meeting with a replica of a machine gun and a pair of blue ear defenders. Back in late August 2010, Ľubomír Harman, a 48-year-old man wearing blue ear defenders and armed with an assault rifle, shot dead seven people before killing himself in Devínska Nová Ves.

In evaluating the court ruling, IVO Barometer only repeated its claim from the time when the lawsuits were filed against the publisher, saying the case points to “the moral decline of the state of the judiciary in Slovakia”.